When it comes to genres, everyone has their favorites. Some people can’t get enough horror, while others want to escape reality with a cozy romance.
Even if you never intend to pen a heart-pumping thriller or a fantasy epic, understanding different genres is a prerequisite for any aspiring writer. Knowing the conventions of different genres and their signature flow can inspire new ideas, help develop better plots, and streamline the writing process altogether.
After all, every story needs structure and direction. By understanding different genres, you can get a better handle on your story’s core elements and how to bring them together in a way that resonates with readers.
This article begins a discussion on genre. What better place to begin than with your intended reader?
What is a Genre?
In the simplest terms, genre means a type of story. The term originated in the marketing arm of publishing in order to link books to their ideal readers. The use of the word has expanded out of the marketing realm into the writer’s world.
You will now see genre used to support to everything from acquisitions, distribution, and bookshelving, to story structure, tropes, and author platform development. This article will adopt the bookstore model and use genre from the perspective of a reader searching for a particular type of book. In other articles, we’ll delve into content genres, those writers and editors can use when crafting and polishing their stories. For this article, the definition of genre is the type of book that promises a certain reader experience.
: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or contentMerriam-Webster Dictionary
Any given story type usually includes specific elements like plot, setting, characterization, and style. Different genres have different goals, stakes, and conventions, and while they all overlap in some ways, there are certain elements that make them unique. That is what creates a repeatable reader experience.
For example, thrillers usually have a darker tone and suspenseful narrative, while fantasy often relies on mythical creatures and otherworldly settings. Romance focuses on love stories and the development of relationships between characters, while horror focuses on fear and psychological trauma.
You can get seriously lost when you start diving into the world of genres. Many of the main ones have their own set of sub-genres and niche writing styles that have evolved over the years from dystopian fiction and steampunk. It can be a bit overwhelming, which is why I always advise new writers to get comfy with the basics before going down the rabbit hole.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the main genres in storytelling and how they can help you write your next novel.
Action is a big umbrella term that’s used to describe a vast array of adventures that primarily focus on the protagonist and their fight against an enemy or a difficult situation. Even though the setting, the character dynamic, and the antagonist may change depending on the niche style, action stories always share one core element: life-or-death struggles.
- Call of the Wild
- Lord of the Flies
Drama is a narrative fiction genre that focuses on interpersonal relationships and life-changing events. It differs from others in that it’s less concerned with the development of the plot and more focused on the characters’ dynamics and the way relationships evolve over the course of the story.
- The Kite Runner
- To Kill a Mockingbird
Slightly similar to drama, romance stories center around the development of relationships only, usually with a strong emphasis on the romantic feelings between two characters. While they’re known for their happy endings, they can also explore the darker side of love, such as longing, heartbreak, and unrequited emotions.
- Pride & Prejudice
- The Notebook
Mysteries and thrillers are suspense-filled tales that take readers on an often complex journey to uncover the truth. They typically rely on unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader hooked, as well as a certain level of suspense that drives the story toward its climax: the big reveal.
- Gone Girl
- The Silent Patient
Who doesn’t love a good fantasy novel? Fantasy is an imaginative genre that pulls readers out of the real world and into the realm of all things magical. Mythical creatures, epic battles, and creating entirely new universes are all fair game in this genre. It’s usually characterized by its world-building and larger-than-life characters who go on an intense journey of self-discovery.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Characterized by sinister plots and psychological terror, horror is meant to leave you feeling unsettled. It often relies on elements like suspenseful settings, dark atmospheres, and the fear of unknown forces to push the readers out of their comfort zone—and keep them on the edge of their seats.
- The Shining
In the far-off future, anything is possible, and no genre stretches the boundaries of reality quite like science fiction. Often set in futuristic worlds and populated with intelligent technology, these kinds of tales explore the possibilities of what could be and how mankind might use technology to shape the future.
- The Martian
Set in the past, historical fiction uses real-life events and people to explore themes of love, loss, and redemption in a different context. While they can be based on true events, they often include fictional characters and subplots to fill in the gaps and create a more compelling narrative.
- Gone With The Wind
What Genre Will You Explore?
No matter what kind of story you plan to write, understanding genres is essential for creating dynamic plots that grip readers and keep them coming back for more. Add a few books from the main styles to your reading list, take notes on how they’re put together, and experiment with different writing techniques.
Who knows? You might just realize a talent for writing a genre you never expected.
If you’re looking for more guidance on developing your novel or taking it over the publishing finish line, my book coaching services are a great place to start. I offer personalized advice and feedback for every stage of the writing process, from first drafts to book launches.